A few weeks ago Tecmo Koei released the newest installment in Gust‘s Atelier series with Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk. Ayesha was a departure from the previously established trilogy available for the PS3. By using different characters, a different setting and some changes to the core gameplay, the game was meant to be a shot in the arm to the niche series. Though new Atelier games are already in the works, Gust is bringing back a few of the Arland titles by putting them on the PlayStation Vita. Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland is the first to receive this treatment. While Totori Plus isn’t a completely different game from its PS3 counterpart, does the transition to a handheld make for a more refined experience?
Like previous entries in the series, the story rarely crosses into epic territory and instead focuses on its charming characters and female-driven character development. Because Atelier Ayesha was such an overly “cute” game it would be easy to recommend to a younger female audience interested in JRPGs. The same can’t necessarily be said for Totori partly because it has somewhat of a controversial past. The Arland games got in a little trouble because of how they sexualized the girls who appeared to be of a very young age. Though adjustments were made on the localization end, some might be turned away by some of the content (the fact that early purchasers of the game will get skimpy bikinis for Totori might raise some eyebrows as well). Regardless, this content is sometimes par for the course and the target group rarely cares. Atelier Totori also contains multiple endings and, depending on how time is managed, can end early or with a more satisfying ending. So juggling gameplay and missions will either encourage those wanting to see everything or discourage those who don’t want to make the strict investment.
A large part of the game is Totori’s drive to become a more prolific adventurer. In Arland, adventurers receive quests and are allowed to visit more dangerous locales in hopes of raising their rank. This element ties into both the story and a big part of the gameplay. Early in the game, Totori receives her adventurer’s license and must level it up in a certain time frame (three years) or it will be revoked, thus ending the game. Completing quests and tasks raises Totori’s rank and in turn extends the life of the game. It’s a clever mechanic that many should appreciate, giving a sense of urgency to the story and player’s actions. Doing things like fighting battles, traveling across the map and picking ingredients will all eat up time so being careless is not advised. Part of the difficultly with having everything timed is that players who haven’t completely grasped the game’s systems are likely to make more mistakes while trying to break through the introductory/tutorial parts of learning the ropes. After certain plot thresholds are reached, however, that three years turns into more.
The alchemy system that is in place with Atelier Totori is a lot less streamlined than from Atelier Ayesha so newcomers should be mindful of that. The core concepts still remain: materials and ingredients are gathered to fulfill a recipe and synthesizing the items from the recipe creates a new item which is used in battle or somewhere else. During the opening parts of the game the alchemy system is very basic, almost frustratingly so. The lack of ingredients and recipes coupled with a very brief tutorial might turn off gamers from one of the best parts of the series. Though it might feel like days of game time are wasted making worthless items, it all becomes worth it when the game opens itself up. Synthesizing items allows for certain traits to carry over such as elemental damage or resale value. Atelier Ayesha carried traits over automatically; in Totori, the player gets to choose what to carry over. The difference does make the system more complex but it does allow more control over getting things just right.
Combat is just as basic as ever. Enemies are encountered on the field and fought for experience, coin and materials. Since fighting takes up time and doesn’t always yield great rewards, many might avoid it as much as possible. Battles are not in any way complex and are often over quickly; those wanting a more in depth system will be disappointed. Then again, the series has always focused more on making more powerful and rare items to defeat opponents rather than the traditional experience point grind.
Graphics and Sound
The transition from PS3 to PS Vita has been very seamless with Totori Plus. The games have never been noted for their superior visuals that take advantage of the PS3’s power. Character design has always been colorfully cute and cel-shaded but not much else. By appearing on the PS Vita, the visuals look appropriate instead of scaled down and are more colorful than ever. The smaller screen does make text a lot smaller and harder to read than on a television. Everything runs great on the handheld and the art actually appears sharper than it would on the PS3.
Music is as good as it always has been with arrangements from other Atelier titles available to play in the background as well. Fans who were disappointed by the choice not to include the Japanese vocal track in Atelier Ayesha will be pleased to see that both English and Japanese voices are included in Totori Plus. Obviously many gamers have a preference with their JRPGs but the English actors are as silly and cute as they should be and don’t sound out of place.
Though Atelier Totori Plus has been severely undermarketed, it is a great example of how these niche JRPGs fit wonderfully on the PS Vita (the same could be said about NIS’ job with Disgaea 3). Totori Plus adds some DLC characters and a post game dungeon to make it a more comprehensive package than the PS3 version, not to mention it is more readily available. In fact, the gameplay resonates particularly well with the handheld experience. Since Atelier Totori focuses so much on completing mini quests, it’s easier to pick up and play in quick bursts than on a console. Atelier Totori Plus does come with the original’s flaws but it’s the best (and easiest) way to play the game and hopefully future installments will find their way on the Vita as well.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the publisher for the purpose of this review.